Social media companies have long partnered with Hollywood studios to market films, with platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram leading the charge by posting early trailers and behind-the-scenes footage from upcoming films in a mutually beneficial arrangement: Star-studded snippets drive use of a platform, and studios get direct access to an enormous, and enormously engaged, audience. But the new Harry Potter movie spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which Warner Bros. is releasing on November 18, has motivated new levels of activations from these and other Silicon Valley players, including Google and Amazon. To promote its new Pixel smartphones and Daydream View VR headset, Google is launching a series of branded promotions for Fantastic Beasts that goes far beyond showing sneak peeks. And for the first time ever, Amazon is integrating the film into its search engine in a surprising new campaign.
The appeal for all these companies is a highly anticipated tentpole movie with a built-in global audience. While Fantastic Beasts is not exactly a Harry Potter movie–it is based on the textbook that Harry and his fellow Hogwarts are required to read their first year of wizardry school–it is being positioned by Warner Bros. as a post-Potter franchise, with four more films already in the works. And its Potter bonafides are intact: The film is being directed by veteran Harry Potter director David Yates, and Potter creator J.K. Rowling wrote the film’s script, a role she never took on with the previous Harry Potter films. All of this has revved up the boisterous Potter community. On Facebook, Fantastic Beasts, which stars Eddie Redmayne as “magizoologist” Newt Scamander who arrives in New York with a case filled with magical creatures 70 years before Harry enrolls in Hogwarts, has already racked up 1.8 million followers to add to the over 77 million followers across all the Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter Facebook pages.
Those kind of numbers, along with the J.K. Rowling seal of approval and track record (the combined Harry Potter films grossed $7.7 billion), has tech companies eager to get in Hollywood’s latest “universe,” today’s buzzword for franchises that promise years, if not decades, of future movies, merchandise, and theme parks (think Star Wars, Marvel, and DC Comics).
For Warner Bros., meanwhile, there’s an opportunity to leverage a major product launch, in the case of Google, or take advantage of new-ish ones, such as Facebook Live and Twitter’s customized emojis. “To be able to have Fantastic Beasts travel with all that advertising and promotion that goes into launching a new product for them, it really says that Fantastic Beasts is an event,” says Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. “That it’s very of the moment. That it’s cool for young people. It makes it a cultural destination, and that’s our ideal. We want to associate with all these new products because it makes the film a cultural destination in a way that you can’t do by regular advertising.”
Fantastic Beasts is an obvious complement for the Daydream headset, a smaller, more comfortable device than the Samsung Gear–that is, at this point, enabled only through Pixel phones (in the future, there will be Android compatible devices). In the experience, the Daydream controller becomes a magical wand that allows you to open up Newt’s leather case. Once inside, Redmayne’s voice guides you as you levitate objects, cast spells, and interact with creatures from the film, such as the Graphorn, a humped-back beast with long, sharp horns. Closer to the launch of the movie, a longer experience will debut that will allow viewers to interact with the Thunderbird and Erumpent.
“To be able to bring a completely magical part of our film to life through that platform, where you get to go into Newt’s case and explore this completely otherworldly world that J.K. Rowling created–it’s pretty spectacular,” says Rich.
But that’s just the beginning of Google’s efforts. The company is also integrating Fantastic Beasts into Google Maps, allowing users to look up four New York City locations from the movie and see them both on a street grid and as a 360-degree street view circa 1926, the year the film takes place. By typing in locales such as MACUSA (Magical Congress of the USA), Steen National Bank, the Blind Pig, and the residence of Tina and Queenie Goldstein, users will be directed to images of those locations from the film.
Typing in Blind Pig, for example, will transport you to 124 Macdougal Street, where you’ll see the outside of the “witch-friendly subterranean speakeasy.” Choosing street view will take you to the bar’s entrance, and if you click through, you’ll be taken inside the musty bar. The MACUSA listing allows you to view the exterior of a vintage department store, where the fictional MACUSA organization is housed in the film. Once inside, you can view the grandiose main hall, as well as the office used by Tina Goldstein, Newt’s love interest in the film. There is also a Magical Maps site on Google, where you can see these images in a more immersive setting, completely with music, moving images, and Easter eggs.
Google Android phones are also being looped into the Fantastic Beasts promotion. Through the “OK Google” voice activation program, Android phones will respond to three magic spells from the movie. By saying, “OK Google, Lumos,” the phone’s flashlight will turn on. “Nox” turns the flashlight off, and “silencio” silences the phone.
Google is also launching stickers (its version of emojis) on the new Google Allo Messenger app for Android and iOS phones, which launched in September, and it recreated a set from the movie at its newly opened YouTube Space in London, where YouTube influencers have been able to shoot video. Finally, it is running promoted spots through Google search. So if you search, say, for movie showtimes, you’ll be shown content from Fantastic Beasts.
If Google is using Fantastic Beasts to help sell phones and VR sets, Amazon wants to pull Potter fans into its ecosystem in order to buy stuff. Any manner of stuff, from Harry Potter books and movies to Harry Potter-themed 18K gold necklaces to collectible quidditch sets to Gryffindor ties, all of which the e-commerce giant sells. But the way it’s doing this is powerfully simple–and highly unusual–for the company, which places a high premium on UI experience. It’s building a campaign around its central tool: the Amazon search bar.
From November 6-20, if an Amazon user types in one of five spells from the movie into the search bar, a magical effect will cover the screen before taking the user to a Fantastic Beasts landing page featuring information about the movie and products for sale. For example, typing in “Aguamenti” will appear to cover the screen in water. As for the four other spells, Amazon is not calling out the exact spell on its site, but will tease them via social messaging.
Twitter, meanwhile, has also created emojis for the film, which it began rolling out in October. The emojis–all 12 of them–can be unlocked by typing in hashtags based on the characters (#FBNewt, #FBTina, #FBJacob, #FBQueenie), beasts (#FBBowtruckle, #FBThunderbird; #FBNiffler, #FBSwoopingEvil), and objects (#MACUSA, #NOMAJ, #NewtsCase, #FBTickets) from the movie.
And Fantastic Beasts‘ Twitter account is asking users to type in special combinations of text and emojis that are themed to Fantastic Beasts in order to unlock clips from the movie. Tweeting the correct “spell” results in a link to an exclusive video. So for instance to cast this spell, you must tweet out #FBQueenie, a cake emoji, and #FBJacob in that order. @FantasticBeasts will then send you a 30-second clip from the film showing the magical creation of a stride, a scene with Newt and Jacob Kowalski.
Facebook’s campaign for Fantastic Beasts launched months ago when cast members answered fans’ questions at VidCon and Comic Con in San Diego via Facebook Live. But since October, Fantastic Beasts fans have been able to upload a movie-themed profile frame from Facebook’s Fantastic Beasts page. The frame features Newt’s magic case and wand on the bottom of the frame.
“When we had Harry Potter, none of this technology existed,” says Rich. “So to be able to creatively interpret this world through technology and allow people this very unusual kind of interaction with it, is really a marketing plus.”